Since the Unique Identification Authority of India embarked on its unique identification project (UIDAI) in 2010, an estimated 200 million people have voluntarily enrolled. As discussed in a previous blog, the UIDAI aims to administer some 1.2 billion unique identification numbers by the end of this decade. The 12-digit online number, also referred to as Aadhaar (“foundation” in Hindi), is issued upon completion of demographic and biometric information by the enrollees. The number will give millions of Indian residents, previously excluded from the formal economy, the opportunity to access a range of benefits and services, such as banking, mobile, education, and healthcare. The UIDAI specifically aims to extend social and financial services to the poor, remove corrupt practices plaguing existing welfare databases, eliminate duplicate and fake identities, and hold government officials accountable.
The Right to Information (RTI) has been highlighted as a key condition for citizen participation, social accountability and good governance, while also being recognized as a human right. In this context, the number of countries adopting RTI legislation has increased significantly in the past decade.
While in some countries RTI has been seen as part of the anti-corruption or state modernization agendas (for instance Mexico and Chile), in South Asia, particularly in India, it has been seen as part of the empowerment agenda. There, the 2005 Right to Information (RTI) Act has been embraced by grassroots groups as a powerful tool to demand their entitlements, especially those under government-sponsored social programs. This has resulted in use of the RTI Act by people to improve their living conditions. Although to a lesser extent, citizens in Bangladesh are beginning to realize the potential that their RTI Act has in this area.
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA)
Funding Free Expression: Perceptions and Reality in a Changing Landscape
"CIMA is pleased to release a new report, Funding Free Expression: Perceptions and Reality in a Changing Landscape, by Anne Nelson, a veteran journalist, journalism educator, and media consultant. This report, researched in collaboration with the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), explores shifts in funding patterns for international freedom of expression activity. It is based on a survey of 21 major donors representing a broad range of private foundations and and government and multilateral aid agencies in North America and Europe. Among other key findings, the report explains that despite perceptions of shrinking support for freedom of expression, funding appears to have increased in recent years." READ MORE
Impact Blog - USAID
How Free is Your Media? A USAID-Funded Tool Provides Insight
"On May 3, the world celebrated World Press Freedom Day. Reflecting on the day’s events, a few important questions arise about what role the media plays in a community and in a democracy.
First, how does freedom of the press compare to freedom of speech? Not only do journalists need freedom to speak and write without fear of censorship, retribution, or violence, but also they need professional training and access to information in order to produce high-quality work. Furthermore, journalists need to work within an organization that is effectively managed, which preserves editorial independence. People need multiple news sources that offer reliable and objective news, and societies need legal and social norms that promote access to public information." READ MORE
In my last blog, I wrote about ADR, which is fighting corruption using the Right to Information Act. In the early 2000s, Anna Hazare (Anna is pronounced un-nah) led a movement in the Indian state of Maharashtra that forced the Government to pass a strong Right to Information Act. This Maharashtra Act formed the basis for the Right to Information Act 2005 (RTI), enacted by the Central Government. Anna Hazare has once again fought and won a significant battle against corruption. Anna was, until recently fasting until death at Jantar Mantar in order to put pressure on the Government of India to enact an anti-corruption act called the Jan Lokpal Bill. This past Saturday he called off his “hunger strike” after receiving a gazette notification from the Centre on the constitution of a joint committee, comprising members from the government and civil society, for preparation of the draft Lokpal Bill. This bill proposes the establishment of a Lokpal (ombudsman) with the power to counter corruption in public office.
Media has long been a powerful force for empowerment. New media content is constantly being created with the purpose of encouraging citizens to address issues at the local, national and international levels. One such example is India’s Bell Bajao (Ring the Bell) campaign, which has used new media channels to catch the attention of local youth on the important issue of domestic violence and encourage them to become a part of the solution.
When India first started using technology for national development, it used technology to build a huge software industry which helped the economy grow in the 1990s. In the decades that followed, with a much improved economy, civic minded Indians set their sights on a much loftier goal – tackling corruption.
In July 2008 The Washington Post reported that nearly a fourth of the 540 Indian Parliament members faced criminal charges, "including human trafficking, immigration rackets, embezzlement, rape and even murder". The criminalization of politics causes a huge drain of public resources and the resulting loss of credibility for politicians dissuades civic minded citizens from stepping forward. Unfortunately the average voter often has little to no idea of the criminal background of some of these Parliament members and hence public opinion cannot be used to throw them out of power. The media, too, does not have capacity to focus on all the corruption cases and usually focuses on the most egregious violations.
Mainstreaming a gender perspective is considered essential in assessing the implication of any development program, project or policy on men and women. This holds true of the modern Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) as well, as research studies are showing a significant gap between men and women in their access to and understanding of ICT opportunities.
If someone were to ask you to identify yourself, you would probably reach into your purse, or pocket, and pull out some form of identification. Without it, one loses some of the basic benefits of living in a society. You cannot open a bank account, purchase a home, or vote, and so on. Many countries, however, don’t have a functional identification system. In India, for example, millions of citizens are unable to benefit from social and financial services because they don’t have proper identification. Also, current welfare databases are plagued with fake names and duplications, entered by corrupt officials. Thus, the country has embarked on a massive identification project that will be one of the largest citizens’ databases of its kind.
A few days ago, The New York Times published a piece on Indian citizens who have been intimidated, harassed, and killed because they made access to information requests on questionable government activities. Many previous posts on this blog have featured successes and failures regarding various country experiences on right/access to information laws and their uneven implementation. We have discussed threats and violence experienced by courageous people who have attempted to use such laws to dig up corrupt practices occurring in their own backyards. These individuals are especially brave because they are located where the many eyes and ears of the mighty and powerful can easily find them. They have nowhere to hide.
CommGAP and the World Bank Development Research Group Poverty & Inequality are hosting a conference on "Deliberation for Development: New Directions" on Friday this week. We have a number of high profile speakers and commentators lined up, who have done cutting-edge research on deliberation and how it can increase development effectiveness. The conference will be convened by the Wold Bank's Vijayendra Rao and Patrick Heller from Brown University. Arjun Appadurai (New York University) will talk about "Success and Failure in the Deliberative Democracy," Ann Swidler (Berkeley) and Susan Watkins (University if California) will discuss "Practices of Deliberation in Rural Malawi." JP Singh of Georgetown University will compare the participatory character of the WTO and UNESCO, while the World Bank's Michael Woolcock will examine the link between deliberation and the rule of law. Gianpaolo Baiocchi (Brown University) will talk about "The Global Translations of Participatory Budgeting” and Gerry Mackie (University of California) will address the educational effects of public deliberation.